Stories Start with Mom

By Emily Levitt


My love of reading came from my mother, who introduced me to all manner of fascinating stories from the comfort of our couch. What has always struck me about children’s literature is how much a mother character—or lack thereof—shapes the story. I was captivated by the beasts in Where the Wild Things Are. Their clawed feet and rhino horns were so intricately drawn that you could stare at the Wild Things for days and see something new at every glance. But what sets the entire story in motion is Max’s mother, who sends him to bed without supper for yelling, “I’ll eat you up!”

And then there was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. When I was small, I felt begrudging kinship with Alexander when he got stuck with the least cool pair of shoes. (Now I empathize with his poor mother who had 84 errands to run after picking up three boys from school.) After threatening to run away to another continent, it was his mother who reassured Alexander that some days are like that – even in Australia.



One of the things that excited me most about becoming a mother was sharing literature with my children, and opening up their eyes to everything an amazing book could offer. I’m a bit of a nerdy adult, and you don’t get that way unless you were also a nerdy kid. I’m pretty sure that I need glasses today because of all the reading I did when I was younger. It was the after-bedtime reading I did, using books I hid under my pillow and the dim, orange light from the controller to my electric blanket. I also had a bookshelf inside my closet. I would prop myself up on a heap of stuffed animals to read. Did I mention I was an only child?


Lessons from Ma in Little House on the Prairie

One of my early favorites was the Little House on the Prairie series. Adventure! Resourcefulness! Man against nature! These books had everything – including an amazingly steadfast mother. The lessons I learned from Laura Ingalls’ books were invaluable. These particular tips ring just as true today as they did when I was small.

  • Listen to your Ma. If you pay attention to her cooking lessons, you can stretch four kernels of wheat far enough to feed eighteen people for six weeks.
  • As long as there’s love, a family of four can live happily in a dirt cave dug out of a riverbank.
  • Winter is miserable. Plan ahead. Can and preserve anything that isn’t nailed down. Do it before the first frost hits, or you might have to eat your dog.

In the Little House on the Prairie series, Ma steered the family with a steady, kind hand. But the lack of a mother can propel a story with the same velocity. In the Harry Potter series, the entire seven-book series is set in motion because Harry loses his mother. His awful beginning in the cupboard under the stairs, Professor Snape’s cruel fixation, even his knack for Parseltongue are all because of her loss.


Lessons from Harry Potter

My sons are finally old enough to appreciate Harry Potter, my favorite series as an adult, and I’m giddy with anticipation. Magic wands and impressive plotting aside, I’m mainly looking forward to spending time with my boys on a squashy sofa and helping them make an old friend out of a new book. And, much like Little House, there are kernels of wisdom that apply all throughout life.

  • Everyone knows a Neville. He needs good friends. Go find him and invite him to sit at your lunch table.
  • Sooner or later, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.
  • Be kind to those you meet. We all have our burdens. You never know who’s secretly a werewolf or has parents in St. Mungo’s.

And the best message of all: A mother’s love lives within you forever, even after your mother is gone.

This Mother’s Day I will run through the bedtime routine like always. Pajamas, brush teeth, sit down together to read a story. I hope that my favorites become their favorites, but I will be just as happy if they find their own titles to pass down to their children. So far so good – I’ve caught my oldest with a little flashlight and a book hidden under his pillow so he can read after I turn out the lights.

Here’s to moms everywhere, both literary and real, who never stop propelling our stories forward. Happy Mother’s Day!